Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Haldimand--Norfolk for raising the question of agricultural support. It gives me the opportunity to stand up once again to summarize the programs and the assistance that the government has delivered to farmers in Canada.
The riding I represent in northern Ontario includes quite a bit of agriculture, maybe not as much as southern Ontario or western Canada, but it is significant nonetheless. In Manitoulin Island, in the Thessalon, North Shore area and even in the highway 11 area between Smooth Rock Falls, Kapuskasing and Hearst, there are beef farmers and some dairy farmers. The clay belt area of northern Ontario, which has produced a number of our farm leaders both in Ontario and Canada, is very productive. The farmers there, like farmers everywhere in the country, are worried about their future. They worry about the level of U.S. and European subsidies. They worry about disasters, like we all do in whatever industry we happen to be. They worry about the future of their family farms and what their legacy will be.
The government is absolutely committed to creating an environment that allows our producers to earn a profitable living. That is a priority. That is why we have helped farmers get through these past few years by providing unprecedented amounts of government assistance. The government has delivered a record $4.8 billion to agriculture producers in 2003, and while all the cheques have not yet gone out, the government payments have topped $3 billion for 2004.
The members opposite want to talk about CAIS. Why do we not just do that. To date more than 31,000 producers have received over $563 million for the 2003 program year. Another nearly $152 million in interim payments and about $150 million in special advances to cattle producers have been paid to more than 25,000 producers for the 2004 program year.
However, why stop at CAIS? Let us look at the other programs and payments the government has delivered to producers during these past few years. CAIS is just one example of the government's commitment to the farming community, to the family farm and to the appropriate evolution in agriculture in Canada so that it is sustainable.
The government has acted decisively to help our ruminant industry deal with the BSE crisis. Last March the Prime Minister announced nearly $1 billion in assistance to be delivered in 2004 alone.
I wish to commend the minister for his tremendous support of the industry, his willingness to meet farmers and farm organizations wherever and whenever possible, his openness and frankness on the challenges and difficulties that face the industry and his message that the government cares and will make the right decisions as problems arise.
In September the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced a new $488 million strategy to reposition the country's beef and cattle industry by addressing cash flow and liquidity issues faced by producers and to expand access to beef export markets.
The members opposite like to complain, but they should listen to what those in the industry had to say about that program.
The first quote is by Stan Eby, the president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association. He says:
The four-point strategy announced by [the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food] today aligns closely with our proposals... This demonstrates a significant commitment to a comprehensive long term plan consistent with the new industry strategy approved and put forth by the CCA...
That sounds to me like a pretty strong endorsement of our program and our efforts by the very group of people we are trying to help.
What did the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the largest farm organization in the country by the way, have to say about the repositioning strategy for our cattle industry? A press release from the CFA said it:
--commends the federal government for listening to industry groups and recognizing the immediate need for a strategy to support the beef and ruminant industry...
Bob Friesen, who is the president of the CFA, said:
We are very encouraged to hear [the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food] commit to continuing to work with industry to ensure the effectiveness of these programs and make adjustments as necessary.
It sounds like we are on track. Let us look a few other programs.
How about the transitional industry support program, TISP? Over $830 million in federal funding has been paid to producers under TISP, most of that in the 2004 calendar year. Nearly $600 million was paid out under the direct cattle payment component and nearly $230 million under the general payment component.
What about the cull animal program? More than $106 million in federal money has been paid out to producers, again mainly in 2004. Then there are the production insurance payments. We are estimating that total indemnities for the 2004 crop year will top $734 million. In 2003 producers received more than $1.7 billion in indemnity payments.
I do not want to get into a long recitation of facts and figures. They can seem dry and cause us to lose sight of the fact that we are talking about human beings and families and the communities in which they live. Farming, as our Minister of Agriculture frequently reminds us, is first and foremost about people. It is about the men and women, their families and the people who live in the communities who support those families and producers. It is about the people of Canada who depend on what the producers do and what they produce. That certainly includes thousands of small businesses.
Therefore, it is essential that we understand what producers want, why they feel the way they do about certain programs, and we should work to address these concerns. Sometimes it means breaking away from the old ways of doing things, and the government has done that.
The CAIS program is an example. For the first time ever Canadian farmers have stable permanent programming for disaster coverage and programming that is based on need. Provinces, territories and stakeholders have all been involved in the development of CAIS. Is it perfect? No, not yet. Maybe indeed never, but we wish as a government to continue to make it better and better for the farmers that it serves. we are working on that. The program has been enhanced since its introduction to include a simplified deposit requirement and an increased payment cap, negative margin coverage and a linkage between CAIS and production insurance. It is a much better program than it was when it was first introduced, and a program with more funds. We are still working on that.
We are committed to our farmers to find solutions that work. If our programs are not working to the benefit of our producers, we are going to take another look at them. We are going to look at them collaboratively and in consultation with provinces and stakeholders. As the minister says, federal, provincial and industry cooperation is the three-legged stool upon which success rests. If one of the legs is missing, the whole thing topples over.
While responding decisively to immediate pressures, as was the case with the development our BSE program, we are continuing as a government to implement a vision and strategy for long term profitability and sustainability with a fully integrated federal-provincial industry national strategy for the agriculture and agrifood sector.
Our record speaks for itself. We have come up with a record amount of assistance to deal with an unprecedented agricultural challenge. We have been there for Canadian farmers in the past and we are there now, and we will most certainly be there in the future.
In Whitehorse in June 2001 the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture agreed to a new framework for agriculture that would help our agriculture and agrifood sector deal effectively with the pressures of trying to farm in the 21st century and ensure its future profitability and prosperity.
The agriculture policy framework is helping to move our agriculture and agrifood sector away from a cycle of crisis management and make Canada a world leader in producing safe, quality, innovative and varied agrifood products in an environmentally sustainable way. That framework is also flexible enough that when policies have to be changed, they can be changed so that the sector can adapt to new challenges and seize the opportunities presented by the increasingly knowledge intensive 21st century economy. Let us remember, that framework is there to serve the needs of the producers.
Crises like BSE and avian influenza have proven just how effective the APF can be. With the APF in place, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, in collaboration with provincial and territorial partners and the industry, was able to devise rapid, coordinated and effective responses to these crises.
It is important to point out that we should be tackling the challenges of agriculture as we should tackle the problems of the country in a larger context and in a planned and consistent way. It is through the APF that we can advance the interests of our agricultural communities and of farmers and their families across the country.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having the agricultural policy framework in place. Our agriculture and agrifood sector is one of the pistons of Canada's economic engine. It is the fifth largest sector in the economy and makes significant contributions to the gross domestic product. It accounts for one in eight jobs across Canada. It also contributes to the quality of life of all Canadians while ensuring stewardship of the environment.
The agricultural sector generates annual sales of about $130 billion, including $30 billion in exports. This contributes an average of $7 billion annually to Canada's positive balance of payments. Canada, with a population of just over 30 million, is fourth in the world in agriculture and agrifood exports after the U.S., the European Union and Brazil. This sector on which it is worth spending time, money and attention.
An historic $5.2 billion was committed to ensure that the agricultural policy framework would be a success. With this investment, the five elements of the APF, business risk management, food safety and quality, environment, renewal, and science and innovation, have come to life through programs that have been implemented across Canada and are achieving results of which to be proud.
The global nature of agriculture cannot be underestimated. For that reason, along with the five elements I named earlier, we also have an international component so that we can address world markets and trade issues.
Over the past three years we have made great strides in meeting our goals for Canada's agriculture and agrifood sector. Whether it is a case of refining business risk management programs to ensure our farmers stay solvent on the one hand or our dollars are used wisely on the other hand or to ensure farmers and farm families are able to stay on top of new developments and technology in farming practices or whether it is a case of science taking this sector into new territory, we have worked to create a sector that is at the forefront of global agriculture. As always, that work is done in concert with our provincial counterparts and with industry stakeholders so together we can ensure a profitable, secure and stable agriculture and agrifood industry for the future. That work will continue. As long as the world does not stand still, farming cannot stand still.
To look as far ahead as is practical, over the next three years Agriculture and Agri-food Canada will build on its experiences to date in implementing the agriculture policy framework and to refine APF policies and programming.
Canada's agriculture and agrifood sector is a success story. It makes significant contributions to Canadian society and to the quality of life of all Canadians. It has a reputation worldwide for contributing to the security of the food system and meeting consumer expectations regarding food safety, food quality and environmental standards. Canadian farmers produce the best food and the safest food in the world.
The sector faces pressure from a host of natural risks. I have already mentioned BSE and avian influenza. Market conditions and the complexity of the trading system create additional pressure. In the face of such pressures, our sector remains resilient because Canadian producers are committed to sustainable practices and because the government for one is committed to providing an environment through the APF for the stability and success of this sector.
The APF was developed by governments and industry to respond to unprecedented challenges to the industry. It is doing just that and will continue to do so. The challenges we face are difficult but not insurmountable. The key to its success is the continuing commitment from producers and from government to make it work, a commitment that has been demonstrated most recently by the meetings my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, has held with farmers across the country, and in partnership with the great efforts that our minister is making as well with stakeholders to ensure the best level of cooperation possible as we go forward.
I have no doubt that we can look confidently ahead to a strong and vibrant Canadian agriculture and agrifood sector.